Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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10/13/2011

Artwalk October

Filed under: — stan @ 10:50 pm

This Thursday was time for the monthly downtown Los Angeles Artwalk. So after work, I got on the train to meet up with Kathleen downtown.

The food trucks were out in force again. Kathleen got a lobster roll from Lobsta Truck, and I got Korean BBQ cheese steak sandwich from the Kogi truck. Odd, but quite tasty.

After that, we headed out to make the rounds of the galleries. I took a few pictures, but not many, as the lighting is not really conducive to that sort of thing. Still, we saw lots of art of all kinds, as well as the insides of a lot of ornate old buildings downtown. As always, it was a fun time.

10/10/2011

“I am not a crook” and other great moments in history

Filed under: — stan @ 9:01 pm

Monday was a government holiday, so Kathleen and I went down to Yorba Linda to visit the Nixon Library and Museum. I’d been there before, many years ago, but I’d read recently that it had been taken over by the National Archives, and that they’d reworked the exhibits into a more fact-based form. So that made it worth the trip.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my mother ranting about how much she hated Richard Nixon. She’d gone to high school for a year in Whittier in about 1953 or 1954, so I guess he was prominent around there then. And of course, he’d run for President in 1960, just after I was born. Then, in 1973, my mother and I spent the summer watching the Senate Watergate Committee hearings on TV. This, of course, culminated in watching Nixon’s resignation in August of 1974. So you might say that Richard Nixon was a big part of my upbringing.

The museum isn’t nearly as glamorous a setting as the Reagan Library, which we visited on this holiday last year. But it’s still interesting to see. The first portion of it covers Richard Nixon’s life from the beginning up to his second term as President, with a small detour with a gallery devoted to Pat Nixon’s life. A lot of interesting and significant things happened during his time in office. The trip to China was one that he could take credit for. The moon landings, not so much, but he was still there for it.

Then we came to the final gallery. The color scheme changed, and we went into Watergate. The old museum had a gallery devoted to Watergate, but it was told from the Nixon point of view. Which is to say, it was a sort of bizarro-world version of the story. There used to be an exhibit where you could listen to an excerpt from the so-called ‘Smoking Gun tape‘ where Nixon and Haldeman are discussing the cover-up of their involvement in the Watergate break-in. And the sign on the exhibit told us that we could listen to it and hear clearly that they were not talking about a cover-up. But listening to it, it seemed pretty obvious that they were. So now, the exhibit has a series of touch screens where you can listen to excerpts from the tapes, and the synopsis on each one actually tells what it’s about, and the pieces of the story all fit together.

And then there was an entire exhibit devoted to the 18 1/2 minute gap. They had a picture of Rosemary Woods stretching across her desk to show how she might have ‘accidentally’ erased part of the tape. They also had a listening station where you could listen to the entire gap tape, complete with the clicks that indicated where there were multiple erasures. The only thing missing was the song.

They even had the lock picks that were found on the Watergate burglars. Being that lock picking is a hobby of mine, I found this amusing.

After that, we went outside to take a tour of the former Marine One helicopter, which was the Presidential helicopter for Presidents from Kennedy to Ford. We finished up with the tour of the family home and a visit to Richard and Pat’s graves.

It was an interesting day.

9/23/2011

Are there stairs on Nantucket?

Filed under: — stan @ 10:20 pm

Today was the day for the YMCA “Stair Climb for Los Angeles“, formerly known as “Stair Climb to the Top”. This is the climb up the U.S. Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles. About 75 floors, 1,018 feet, and 1,500 steps to the top. This was my third time doing this event.

This morning, while I was getting ready for work, I stepped on the scale. It said 170, which is about normal for me these days. But when I was riding my bike to the office, I was thinking, “one hundred and seventy pounds”, and thinking that that phrase just might be the first line of a limerick. So by the the time I got to the office, I had this:

One hundred and seventy pounds
That shouldn’t be cause for a frown
Though the stairs are so long
My legs are still strong
And I’ll make lots of loud panting sounds

I left work a little bit early to go home and pick up my stair climbing gear. Then I went to the Gold Line and got on the train to go downtown. Along the way, Morgan, Jason, Chris, and Irving from my office at Caltech all got on. This was quite novel. We had a whole crew to go climb the stairs tonight.

After doing a fair number of these events, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people who are regulars at this. So this made for a fun time visiting before it was time to climb. But as our start time approached, the usual feeling of dread began to creep in. The first time I did one of these things, I went into it with an attitude of “How hard could it be?” And by the time I got to the 25th floor, I had realized that this is the hardest athletic thing I’ve ever done. So now I know what I’m getting into. And I know that I’ll hit the wall at about the 45th floor, and I’ll be thinking, “What the HELL was I thinking signing up for this again”. Or in limerick form, that looks like this:

Passing the forty-fifth floor
I don’t think I can climb any more
Cross-eyed in pain
This sport is insane!
“Yet I must go on,” I swore

Morgan’s friend Chris had started right behind me, and he shadowed me all the way up. He’s very strong, but this was his first race, so he’s still learning how to pace for the long run. I had a look at my watch at about the 25th floor, and it said something like 4:15, so I knew I was on target. At 55, it was just a little bit over 9 minutes, so I was still on track. But the last 20 floors were pure hell. They always are. It’s just the nature of the beast. By the time we got to 60, my lips were tingling, and I had tunnel vision. At least that helped me to not look at the floor numbers. The highest numbered floor is 73, and there there are about two more before the finish line on the roof. When we came out on the roof, I flopped down on the big steel window-washer crane track. It was a big steel girder, and it was nice and cool. I just laid on it panting for several minutes.

To the finish line we sustained
Endeavoring not to wane
Collapsed on the floor
Panting and sore
I can’t wait ’til I do this again

In the end, my time was 14:11. Once again, I fell short of my goal of going under 14 minutes. But on the other hand, I did improve my time by 23 seconds over what I did last year. But last year, I got a medal for 2nd place, and this time I was 8th. There were a lot more people doing it this year. So I finished 8th out of 111 in the men’s 50-59 category. Still, I did some math, and my time was in the 94th percentile among men, 97th overall, and 93rd percentile in my age group. Nothing not to like there. And working out my power production:

77kg * 310m * 9.8 = 233926J
233926J / 851sec = 275W
275W * 0.001341 = 0.37hp

While it’s not the 0.4hp I managed in practice, it’s still good, since this climb was longer than the practice climbs.

Overall, there’s nothing not to like about this. And I looked through the results, and even though there were over 2,000 people participating, there were only 6 guys my age or older who went faster. And at my age, that’s a Good Thing.

It was a fun time.

9/11/2011

Time for the County Fair again

Filed under: — stan @ 8:49 pm

It’s the end of summer, so it’s time once again for the Los Angeles County Fair.

I didn’t win a ribbon this year. But if you want to try, here are the recipes I entered:

Blueberry Muffins
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

In any case, they didn’t get a ribbon, unlike last year’s entry.

It was a nice day for the fair. It’s usually very hot there, but today was nice. We went there with Lucinda and her friend London. Being the age that they are, Kathleen and I figured we’d send them off with some money, and we’d only hear from them when they needed more.

Right inside the gate, we were assaulted with the stands offering Everything! Totally! Fried! Yick.

First off, Kathleen and I headed over to the Culinary Styles area. I wanted to see if I’d won a ribbon, since they don’t publish the results. I didn’t win anything, so we moved on. We stopped in to see the garden model railroad. It was amusing to see that they had a lot of familiar Los Angeles sights rendered in miniature there. After that, we wandered over to get some Dr Bob’s Ice Cream. Then, we went into the pet area, since they had a pen with some wallabies in it. Not your usual pets, but interesting and cute.

Next, we found the arts building, so we could go see the Museum of Neon Art exhibit there. It was a small exhibit, mostly of old neon signs from their collection. At that point, I got a message from Lucinda. They’d gone on some rides, and they were out of money. And they wanted to buy themselves tails. So I told them to meet us outside, and I gave them some more money. We followed along to see the tails, and they were cute.

For lunch, we went to King Taco. Then, after having the pork carnitas, we went into the barn to see some baby pigs. We looked at all the animals, and ended up at the far end just in time for the pig races. That was amusing, and at the end, they gave us all coupons for a pound of bacon. Made from the losers, presumably.

The final act was to walk through all the exhibit halls and marvel at the endless rows of booths selling all manner of crap. In the end, I bought a hat, which was a fairly modest thing, compared to some of the stuff they were selling there.

It was a fun day.

9/5/2011

Parking isn’t Rocket Science…

Filed under: — stan @ 8:21 pm

Last Sunday, we went to the “Spinal Tap” show at Hollywood Forever. Going to one of these screenings has been on our list of things to do for a long time. And we had a nice time – once we got in. The process of getting in was so aggravating and so frustrating that we ended up wanting to never come to another event again.

The process of scanning the tickets and parking passes at the gate had something very, very fundamentally wrong with it. Tickets were sold online, and they were the print-at-home kind with a bar code. So when you get to the gate, all they have to do is scan them and you’re done. There is no reason why it should take 3 minutes to scan the tickets for one car. If the people at McDonald’s ran their drive-through like that, they wouldn’t get fired. They’d be taken out back and shot.

There was a line coming out of the gate and down Santa Monica Boulevard. At Gower St, the line turned and went down the street. We spent 45 minutes waiting in line on Gower St, not moving one inch. Because every time a little room opened up in the main line on Santa Monica Blvd, cars coming down Santa Monica Blvd would fill it in. The only motion on the Gower St line was when people in front of us gave up and bailed out.

We finally bailed out and ended up on Santa Monica Blvd going the other way. There was a short line there for people turning left into the entrance, and we got in that way after waiting just a few minutes. Because the guy directing traffic at the gate was giving equal priority to the line of 10 cars on Santa Monica turning left and the line of 200 cars on Santa Monica turning right into the gate.

This was stupid.

There was no reason why this should have been such an ordeal.

How it really should be done:

There should be just one line. Put us a sign at the entrance that says something like, “Line for Cinespia forms on Gower St”. Put up a sign at the southwest corner of Santa Monica and Gower that says the same thing. Put a security person there to watch over it and direct.

Now that there is just one line, send someone down the line to check that everyone has their tickets. There is no reason why the people with the scanners should be fumbling with money. That slows everything down. Any car that does not have the proper tickets gets a yellow Post-It on the windshield. When they get up to the turnoff into the gate, have someone meet them there and sell them the tickets or whatever that they need. By the time they get to the scanners, they should have everything in place to be scanned. There is no call to hold up everyone else because someone isn’t prepared.

This sort of thing just isn’t Rocket Science. It’s not that hard. It would make for a more pleasant experience for the attendees, and far less verbal abuse for the people working the gate.

9/4/2011

A fun evening*

Filed under: — stan @ 11:05 pm

On Sunday night, we went to Hollywood Forever for one of the Cinespia movies. Tonight it was “This is Spinal Tap“. It was a fun evening, with one big exception. And that was almost enough to make me never want to go to another of their shows again. But aside from that, it was a fun time. We brought a little picnic dinner, along with the chairs we got for going to “Hamlet” and “The Captains” back in July. So we had a nice time. After the movie, we visited the photo booth and got our picture taken with Stonehenge.

* I’ll write about the utter idiocy that was the line for parking in another post.

9/3/2011

Neon lights, but not so much water as last time

Filed under: — stan @ 11:30 pm

Last December, we took the Museum of Neon Art’s Holiday Lights tour. And as it turned out, that was the night it was pouring rain in Los Angeles, which is not so good if you’re riding in an open-top sightseeing bus. So tonight, we went to do the summer version of the neon tour, and it seemed like a pretty good bet that it wasn’t going to rain.

The museum has moved out of the old bank building on 4th St in preparation for their move to Glendale next year. So the tour began in Chinatown. There is a lot of nice neon dating back to the 1930s there, and it was always a stop on the tour, so it seemed like a good place to start. While we were waiting to go, we wandered around and took pictures of the neon as the sun went down.

When it got dark, we all loaded up the bus and headed out. They took us downtown to see all the old theaters on Broadway, as well as a number of other old neon signs in the area. Then we had our first stop of the tour, at The Golden Gopher. Word is that Gopher has the oldest liquor license in L.A., and it’s apparently one of very few that allow for take-out. And the little gophers inside were cute.

Leaving downtown, we headed up across Echo Park and Silver Lake into Hollywood. There is a lot of neon and other electric signage in Hollywood, so that was a natural for the tour. Eric was our guide for the tour, and he was very entertaining, telling us stories about the different signs along the way, as well as maintaining a constant patter about which historic buildings have been converted to loft housing. There’s a little video excerpt you can see there that will give a taste of what the tour is like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhA6D6DzZh0

It was a very fun evening.

9/2/2011

Remembering the ’80s

Filed under: — stan @ 11:30 pm

On Friday night, we started off our long weekend at the Hollywood Bowl. They were having a “Totally ’80s” nostalgia show with Berlin, The Fixx, The B-52s, and The Human League, so we joined about 18,000 other 50-mumble-year-olds and we partied like it was 1983.

Parking at the Hollywood Bowl is the stuff of nightmares, so we did the un-L.A. thing and rode the train. Riding on the Metro, as it were. That worked out well, except that Kathleen got stuck in traffic on the way to the subway station, so we were a bit late. When we got there, Berlin was already playing… “The Metro“. And Terri Nunn still looks great, even 30 years later. They played a short set, and then Terri was the MC for the remainder of the evening.

Second up was The Fixx. I wasn’t all that familiar with them, aside from what was played on KROQ back in the day. But they still looked good, and the played all the songs we knew.

The B-52s were up third, and they stole the show. Fred Schneider has gotten old, but they can still rock. Funny thing was, “Party out of Bounds” just doesn’t sound the same when it’s played by a bunch of middle-agers. Still, they did a good long set, and as always, we knew all the songs. They had the crowd on their feet, which is not always an easy thing to do at our age. I was happy that I’d finally had a chance to see them play, since I missed my first opportunity, back in1980. I was in college at the time, and they were playing at a tiny little club in Houston, Texas. But the show was on a Sunday night, and it was the Sunday night before my first big exam in Physics 311 – Quantum Mechanics. At the time, I thought it was probably a good idea to skip the show and study. So now, 30-something years later, I finally got to see them.

Finally, The Human League rounded out the show. They did all right, although they played a couple of actual new songs. They should know that nobody goes to a nostalgia show to hear or see anything new. We’re there to relive old memories, and quietly weep for our lost youth. Still, they did a good show, and all around it was a fun evening.

Some things don’t change. We could still smell pot wafting by on the breeze. On the other hand, I’d be willing to bet that there was nobody there who got so drunk that they puked on their shoes, unlike if we’d had the same crowd and bands at a show back in, say, 1983. Another thing I thought was funny was seeing the glowing screens of hundreds of digital cameras in the crowd. It looked a lot like the old days, only with cameras instead of lighters. And I’m told now that there’s a ‘lighter app’ for the iPhone now, just so we can combine the best of old and new. Heh.

All told, it was a fun evening.

8/29/2011

Once more to the Magic Kingdom

Filed under: — stan @ 10:47 pm

For the past three years, I’ve made a point of taking Lucinda to Disneyland just before school starts. Partly because it’s a nice way to end the summer, and partly because our friend who works there has a pass that doesn’t work during the high days of summer. So today was the day. We went twice last year, and those were the days when we got Lucinda to ride California Screamin’ for the first time. And the second time last year was the day when we rode it 21 times. That was a very absurd, but also very fun day.

Lucinda is getting older now, so it’s not the same as it was a few years ago. This time we went with her friend London, and my girlfriend Kathleen. That way, I would have company, and the two girls could go off on their own and do whatever they want. So where I used to have a whole set of pictures of her on the various rides, now I just have a few. I got one when we got there, just before we went in. We ran into them around mid-day at California Screamin’, so I got a picture of them on the front row of the train, coming around the last turn. And then I got one more at the end of the day, when we had our traditional dinner at the Jazz Kitchen. They told us about what they did and what rides the rode, but I have no pictures.

Kathleen and I had a nice time. We rode Space Mountain four times, California Screamin’ four times, and we also got to ride the newly-redone Star Tours, Big Thunder Mountain, and Pirates. So we were not lacking for fun. We also got to see the Phineas and Ferb show, which is new. My friend Nick at work is an old friend of the creator of Phineas and Ferb. So I’ve heard a bit of the history behind the show and the characters. And I’m sure that the fact that there is now a show at Disneyland means that Dan is sleeping on a very big pile of money now. And that it’s well-deserved. We like Phineas and Ferb.

Overall, it was a very fun day.

8/23/2011

Well, this certainly made for an interesting day

Filed under: — stan @ 8:16 pm

There was a fairly large earthquake in Virginia today. Magnitude 5.8, which was strong enough to be felt as far north as Toronto. This is an unusual event, and it brought the news trucks out to the office for the first time in quite a while.

My Pet Project told me about the earthquake first, with a message that it had been detected by the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center’s seismic network. Given that this was an unusual location for an earthquake that large, I wanted to get independent verification that it was real. So I had a look at Twitter. And sure enough, there were people talking about it already. So I had a look at the web servers to see that they were doing all right, and I checked on the ENS (aka My Pet Project) database to be sure it was doing all right. Then I headed across the street.

Channel 7 was the first to arrive. Seeing that first news truck after an earthquake is like seeing the first robin of spring. Soon, we had a large collection of them parked all around the building, and they filled up the media room for the quick press conference that was organized for the occasion.

It’s always entertaining watching the media frenzy after an earthquake. So it made for a fun afternoon. And ENS picked up over 2,600 new subscribers today. It still boggles my mind that something I invented is being used by more than 280,000 people.

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